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The Wild Swans by Hans Christian Anderson

Categories: Christian

Throughout this monograph I will be giving reasons on my thought process and interpretation for my final major project; The Wild Swans. This is a lesser known story by the famous Danish poet and author Hans Christian Anderson. The Wild Swans was written in 1838 and was one of three stories published in a book called Fairy tales told for children published by C. A. Reitzel, Copenhagen (1838) I will be looking at the social and political aspect for the time I have set my interpretation and how that has affected my research for this project.

The Wild swans by Anderson has been adapted in many forms such as ballet, television and film. In this paper I will be looking at reviews from these productions to see their take on the story and how they have produced it for their performance area.

The Wild Swans follows the tales of Elisa a princess who lives with her eleven brothers and her father the King.

The King decides to remarry but he marries an Evil Queen who grows jealous of the king’s children and is plotting to get rid of them. The Evil Queen first turns the eleven princes into swans, then she disguises Elisa, so her father doesn’t recognise her and banishes her from the kingdom. Elisa decides to find her brothers, so they can start a new life together. As she almost gives up her search “Elisa saw eleven wild swans flying in to land with gold crowns upon their heads, one swan gliding behind the next like a long white ribbon.

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” (Anderson 1838) Once the sun set below the horizon the swans turned back into princes.

Elisa dreamt that night that she would have to break the curse by making a shirt for each of her brothers out of nettle flax, but whilst she is making the shirts she must not utter a word, or her brothers will be cursed to stay as swans forever. Her brothers flew her to a new country where they have been living so Elisa can start making the shirts. Whilst making the shirts a hunting party came upon her and “The most handsome of them all was the King of that country, and now he walked over to Elisa; never had he seen a girl more beautiful.” (Anderson 1838) The king brings Elisa back to his castle and decides she should be his bride. Elisa carries on not speaking and weaving the shirts, this makes a few people suspicious of her. The Archbishop thinks her to be a witch and tries to convince the king of his beliefs. The king starts to believe the Archbishop and orders Elisa to be burned at the stake. Before she is burnt the swans fly down and surround her, she throws the nettle shirts onto them and they transform back into their human form. Elisa then protest her innocents and declares her love for the king.


When first receiving the brief, I began to research different stories. When researching the stories, the ones that I found most appealing were under the theme of fairy tales. The final four stories that were up for consideration were The Wild Swans, the princess who wouldn’t marry her father, The chronicles of Amber and the King who wished to marry his daughter. These stories were chosen because each one had a strong female character in them. By having a strong female character, I aim to use this opportunity to help shift audience opinions about fairy tales. “you’re tapping into human emotions, you’re telling people that you understand their needs, the things that make them tick, and you’ve got a solution to their problems”. This is a statement from marketing agency Storkey Media about how to use a story to connect with an audience. They support my idea about changing the “classic” fairy tale and replacing the old fashioned image of a princess with a strong female lead that will resonate with young women who are also my targeted demographic for this project.

The main target audience for fairy tales is normally influential young girls, so instead of remaking a classic fairy tale where the princess has to rely on a man to help her, making a new fairy tale where the main female character is the hero of the story will send a message to the audience to be strong and independent. This was a very important reason when choosing which story. Selecting a story that would be relevant to a modern audience was another factor that had to be thought about, as I knew once I started researching that the film pathway was the direction I would want the story to go in. To decide what story to take forward, a mind map was made for each story and this helped me decide as I wrote down the main characters, themes and key points in the story.

After doing this a PowerPoint was made with key research images relating to each story. From there I made my final decision on which story to take forward to final year. Researching the wild swans further first gave me the idea of setting it when the book was released (1838). But when looking into this period no key points in history related to the book, so I decided to keep looking throughout history until a period was found that would relate to my story. After researching many keys historical points in Europe, 18th century France had the most in common with the chosen story. With a new Queen on the throne that was doing nothing to help her country thrive, the hope of moving to the “New world” for a more prosperous life, women were still treated poorly. From there I began to do a lot of research of the history and fashions of this time, so I would be able to have another theme. The interiors and furniture inside historical house kept appearing throughout my research. The shapes of the furniture and the colours of the interiors were what inspired the colour scheme and shapes when first designing the mood boards.

To understand how people lived during this period and how their houses were furnished visiting an 18th century house was key to this understanding. Castle Howard Estate, in North Yorkshire was the first house that I visited. Castle Howard first began to be built in 1699 by the 3rd Earl of Carlisle, the construction of the house took over 100 years for it to be finishes and spanned over the lifetime of three Earls. As the house took so long to be built and three different Earls oversaw the building and decorating the house takes on a mixture of styles. Dramatist John Vanbrugh helped to design the house for the 3rd Earl. He had a very flamboyant baroque style, which at the time was very fashionable but when the 4th Earl moved in he brought the interior back down to earth with his conservative style. Many visitors to the house notice the disjointedness to the interiors and buildings and comment on how unbalanced it looks. The construction of the house was finally completed in 1801-11.

Thus the reason for the appearance of the house today, the house does not have matching wings (building plans from 1725 show matching wings). The house also boast notably asymmetrical appearance as Vanbrugh’s Baroque vision is challenged by the later Earls afterthought.

Most of the antiques in the house were collected by the 4th Earl Henry Howard between the years 1694-1758. The 5th Earl filled the house with paintings he had collected from his travels. The wealth of the Howard family during the 18th century is very overt when touring the house. Everything was made to the highest quality with fine materials. When looking at the interiors for each room the stucco also known as decorative plaster work was personalised to each room. This was a very popular style during the Baroque period. “Baroque was the dominant style in art and architecture of the seventeenth century, characterized by self-confidence, dynamism and a realistic approach to depiction” (TATE) Another way to show wealth was to have the stuccos painted with gold, this made the rooms I saw have extra depth and an aura of wealth about them. The shapes within these stucco designs were very whimsical and resembled bird movements/wings. I aim to incorporate these images and the detail that represent wealth into my costume designs and the textiles to make the costumes.

Many pieces of the furniture were also highly decorated or coated in gold leaf. The marble top table in the dance hall had a very ornate table legs. When looking closer the legs were in the shape of an eagle decorated with flowers. I asked the tour guide if this had any meaning to it, but sadly she could not answer this question. She only told me that as an eagle is a powerful bird it was a symbol of power and wealth. These images will be a key reference point during design.

As the title of the book is the Wild Swans the second theme will be birds. Having birds featured throughout the designs will help to link all the costumes together. To help the audience distinguish the textiles on each character, each one will be given a bird that represents their personality. To understand a birds movement and form, a trip to Askham Bryan Wildlife & Conservation Park in North Yorkshire was organised. At the Wildlife park they have a Birds of the world enclosure, the birds in this enclosure are a mixtures of shapes and colours. Drawing the birds in flight and when stationary gave me some very interesting textures that will be taken through to the textiles project.

As the wildlife park didn’t have a large bird section, visiting the online site RSPB the Royal Society for the Protection of Bird was the next step to finding a suitable bird for each of the characters. On the website they have a section called A-Z of birds, in this section there are 268 bird illustration to look at. The birds featured on this list are primary British birds. The motive for looking at the birds was to find similarities between them and the characters whether that be the colorings or the just the way the birds looked. Once a bird was found for each character, the bird was taken through to textiles where motifs or feathers textures were used to combine the character and the bird together.

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The Wild Swans by Hans Christian Anderson. (2019, Dec 15). Retrieved from

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